Lebanese TV aired images of men carrying rifles and heavy weaponry as the army reported “bursts of gunfire in Tayouneh–Badaro,” a few blocks from where protesters had gathered moments earlier to demand Judge Bitar’s removal.
Lebanon authorities have said that gunfire killed at least seven people and wounded 30 at a Beirut rally organised by Shia Hezbollah and Amal movements to demand the dismissal of the Beirut blast lead investigator.
The army deployed tanks and troops to quell street battles on Thursday that sparked memories of the 1975-1990 civil war for a city already traumatised by last year's blast disaster and Lebanon's worst-ever economic crisis.
Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said the "exchange started with sniper fire, with the first casualty shot in the head".
One man died of a gunshot to the head and a second of a shot to the chest, said Mariam Hassan of the Sahel Hospital in Beirut's mainly Shia southern suburbs.
A 24-year-old woman was hit in the head by a stray bullet while inside her home, the doctor added.
The state-run National News Agency reported another death at the Rasoul al Azam hospital, also in the southern suburbs.
The Lebanese Red Cross reported 20 wounded.
Lebanese television broadcast images of men carrying rifles and heavy weaponry.
A sniper opens fire at a Hezbollah-Amal protest to demand the removal of Bitar, the judge in charge of investigating the Beirut port explosion. There are dead and wounded. A very dangerous escalation pic.twitter.com/lZdWIlXHep— Liz Sly (@LizSly) October 14, 2021
The army said in a statement the gunfire had targeted protesters as they passed through the Tayouneh traffic circle located in an area dividing Christian and Shia Muslim neighbourhoods.
"The army rushed to cordon off the area and deploy in its neighbourhoods and their entrance. Patrols started, as did the search for the shooters to detain them," it said.
In a follow-up statement, the military warned that it would open fire at anyone firing live rounds, calling on civilians to evacuate the area.
The shooting began from the Christian neighbourhood of Ain el-Remmaneh before spiralling into an exchange of fire, one military source said.
Hezbollah and Amal Movement said groups had fired at protesters from rooftops, aiming at their heads in an attack they said aimed to drag Lebanon into conflict.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati called for calm to be restored and warned against attempts to drag Lebanon into violence.
The supporters and allies of Hezbollah had gathered to protest against the judge investigating last year’s massive blast in the city's port.
Previously, the new government was shaken by demands from Hezbollah for the judge investigating the blast, Tarek Bitar, to be removed, accusing him of bias.
The judge has sought to question a number of senior politicians and security officials, including Hezbollah allies, suspected of negligence that led to the port explosion, which caused by a huge quantity of ammonium nitrate.